UK greenlights coronavirus jabs for kids aged 12 and over

The U.K. government confirmed Monday it plans to offer coronavirus vaccines for all children aged 12 and over, following a recommendation from chief medical officers.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi told parliament on Monday evening that the government would “now move with the same sense of urgency we’ve had at every point in our vaccination program” in implementing the decision.

In a statement, the government said the health service would roll out the vaccination program in schools, with invitations starting to be sent out next week. Consent will be asked from parents, guardians or carers before children are vaccinated.

The announcement followed a decision by the U.K.’s four chief medical officers earlier Monday recommending that kids over 12 get the jab.

That’s despite the fact the country’s advisory committee on vaccinations on September 3 said the margin of benefit for vaccinating that age group was “too small” to be supported. However, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) didn’t consider the potential wider benefits of vaccination, for example for education. 

In the recommendation from Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and the chief medical officers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the doctors said the impact of vaccination on schooling merited the rollout of vaccines in this group.

“The additional likely benefits of reducing educational disruption, and the consequent reduction in public health harm from educational disruption, on balance provide sufficient extra advantage in addition to the marginal advantage at an individual level identified by the JCVI to recommend in favour of vaccinating this group,” they wrote in a letter to U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid. 

The chief medical officers did say they would like the JCVI to “give a view on whether, and what, second doses to give to children and young people aged 12 to 15 once more data on second doses in this age group has accrued internationally.” The JCVI has previously recommended giving an initial dose to those aged 16 and over. 

In modeling published Monday by the U.K.’s Department for Health and Social Care, it finds that vaccination could have a very significant effect on school absences under certain scenarios.

Welcoming the decision, the Royal Society of Paediatrics and Child Health said that vaccination of children could benefit them in terms of interrupting school attendance less, allowing them to mix more freely with their friends, and protecting their friends and family.

However, the society warned that the coronavirus vaccine program shouldn’t interfere with other school vaccination programs where the “health benefits are more clear-cut and have the potential to be lifesaving.” 

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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